You’d think modern firearms would be fail-safed against going off if dropped.  Well…not always.

In one of the very best of the gun forums today,, this topic recently came up and a member cited this article that I wrote a decade ago for Combat Handguns magazine: .

Colt Owners Manual Warning

Let’s look at a classic example of the need to pay attention to this. Colt came out with their iconic 1911 pistol in that year, and has manufactured it uninterrupted ever since.  The potential for dropped gun discharges caused them, in the late 1930s, to introduce the Swartz Safety, which locked the firing pin internally and was released by depressing the grip safety.  However, it was extremely complicated and expensive to manufacture at the time, and didn’t stay in production for long.  The issue remained, and for decades now Colt has produced the Series ’80 version, safe to carry with a live round in the chamber because it has an internal firing pin lock that is released when the shooter presses the trigger.  However, aficionados clamored for the original version without the Series ’80 firing pin block, so Colt introduced the Series ’70, which doesn’t have it, in a separate line that is still produced today.

I recently spent some time shooting a new Series ’70, and couldn’t help noticing that the owner’s manual stated in bold capital letters, highlighted in Day-Glo Orange no less, the following:


Your correspondent here frequently carries 1911s.  The Colts are generally Series ’80, whose drop-safe system has been copied by other makers.  Kimber II-series 1911s use a variation of the Swartz concept conceived by modern firearms design genius Nehemiah Sirkis, affordable for production now thanks to CNC machinery.  Some other companies, like Springfield Armory, achieve drop-safe status by combining a light titanium firing pin with a strong firing pin spring to prevent “inertia fire” due to impact.

When in doubt, check with the Customer Service department of your firearm’s manufacturer. “I never drop my gun” is a strategy that presumes you are a perfect human being incapable of making a mistake, and I haven’t heard of one of those for about 2,020 years.


  1. Mas:

    Excellent reminder. I remember when Uncle Jeff told us the following (the quote may not be exact, but it is close: “The 1911 can go off if dropped on its muzzle. I have seen it happen. It makes a hole about this big (gesturing) in the dirt. So what?” We all laughed.

    Once in the early 80s when I was in plainclothes working a stair case late one night looking for a burglar, I stupidly had placed my unholstered, cocked and locked 1911 in the rather flimsy pocket of my parka (winter) while I retrieved my Kel Light (remember those giant lights with 7 or 8 “D cells”?), and I heard a ripping sound, and the 1911 fell from my apparently flimsy coat pocket, which had given way to the weight of the big pistol. That blued 1911 tumbled down a long flight of stairs. I can remember to this day that giant (it seems that way when pointed at you) .45 muzzle pointing at me with each revolution as the big Colt tumbled end over end all the way down the stairs. Fortunately, besides embarrassment, nothing happened. I caught up to the pistol, picked it up, and holstered it and went on about my business after a quick visual showed that nothing seemed obviously broken.

    Although Series 70, that pistol pre-dated the light firing pin/heavy FP spring Colt uses now. In any event, I am very glad to now have the option of a light titanium firing pin and a heavy spring.

    That 1911 went back in its holster, and depending on circumstances, is still carried today (although it now has the titanium FP and heavy spring), although I find myself using the FP safety-equipped G19 more often these days. The big pistol sustained cosmetic damage, but no actual damage.

    Fortunately, my ego was the only thing that took a hit that night. That said, it could have been a disaster. This incident, although anecdotal and without injury to person, pistol, or other property, with no round fired, convinced me that no matter how much a person thinks his pistol will never get dropped, it will happen.

    Better to be safe than sorry. Since the light FP combined with heavy FP spring seems to pass the dreaded California drop test, that seems an indispensable improvement to make to any older 1911.



    • Shawn McCarver,

      I’m glad your 1911 passed the impromptu drop test that night. I wonder if the stair material has anything to do with it. Were the stairs wood, concrete or metal? Were they carpeted or un-carpeted?

  2. I am not an expert on the 1911 (I own only one – a Government model clone with Series 80 system) but does using a firing-pin lock design make that much difference?

    I know that a Series 70 trigger can be “tuned” to target levels but, given people seem totally OK with the Glock’s standard 5.5 lb. spongy trigger, why obsess over a super-light 1911 trigger?

    The trigger on my Series 80 1911 clone breaks at about 4.25 lbs. and is crisp with only a tiny bit of over-travel. It is much better than any Glock trigger that I have tried although I will admit to not being a Glock expert either. I don’t even own a Glock since I don’t like their grip angle.

    I remember when Ruger brought out their version of the 1911 (The SR1911), the gun magazines praised the fact that Ruger used a Serier 70 design with titanium firing pin and strong spring to make it drop safe. It is a simpler design and may be better from that point-of-view. Yet, how many people will actually tune the factory trigger to match levels? Even if they did, how many people have the skill to take advantage of that trigger and shoot “up to the gun”?

    My guess is, not many. Which makes the preference for the Series 70 design mostly “Gun Snobbery” in my book.

  3. I have carried a Colt Series 70 Government Model and later a Springfield Mil-Spec both in .45 ACP for over 40 years now and will continue to do so until my meeting with the Grim Reaper, who I will shoot if I can get the drop on him/her. I will never have a Colt Series 80 pistol after experiencing a situation which could have terrible consequences except for a lucky glance. A friend had purchased a new Colt Series 80 Government model in .45 ACP and invited me to the range to try out his new toy. We put over 100 rounds through it without any problems when I shot it empty to slide lock. I handed the pistol to my friend and reloaded the magazine for him. We were talking when I happen to look at the pistol laying on the bench and noticed the tip of the firing pin poking from the breechface. I took off the slide and saw that the firing pin lock plunger was jammed in the slide with the firing pin stuck in the forward position. If my friend had inserted the magazine in his pistol and released the slide, that Series 80 would have fired full auto for 7 rounds. I later discovered the edges of the plunger was peened and would not slide freely in the slide. I replaced the damaged plunger with a new one and my friend quickly sold that Series 80 and swore he would never buy another.

    Years later when I worked for a local PD, a sergeant who carried a S&W 5906 suffered the opposite situation. He had successfully completed a semi-annual qualification, cleaned his pistol and carried it for six months without firing it. When it came time for his next qualification, the pistol would not fire because the firing pin plunger was damaged and prevented the pin from moving forward. That sergeant was carrying an inoperable gun for six months and was lucky he wasn’t involved in a shooting situation, especially since he didn’t carry a backup piece.

    I have put thousands of rounds through many Glocks, a Beretta 92F, a S&W 4506, and several SIG pistols including a model 220 which I carried on duty for eight years, all without any problems. These pistols all have firing pin safeties, but given a choice, I would not carry one for defensive use now, and even with my Springfield 1911, I always pack a backup gun in .40 S&W or .45 ACP.

  4. The big problem with using a Series 80 style of weapon is that the Series 80 system will get clogged up with dirt and malfunction and on all the ones I have used (perhaps 8 or so) after you shoot them for a bit (say 5000 rounds or so ) they will get battered and start not functioning properly such that the weapon will not fire.Thus you have to decide whether you would rather risk a discharge when you drop the weapon on a hard surface or you would prefer it not firing when you pulled the trigger.If you are using it as a match weapon then obviously the safety factor of not firing when dropped is more important than it not firing when you pull the trigger during a match but if using it as a carry weapon then I would suggest the concern about it not firing when you pulled the trigger during an emergency would be more important than a concern for the dropping of the weapon on the muzzle and it firing and injuring someone.Especially when you can put in the lighter firing pin and heavier spring which will greatly help with the drop firing issue.

  5. The issue here is the inertial firing pin design used by John Browning in the Model 1911 pistol, and has nothing to do with the trigger, hammer, sear, thumb safety, or grip safety. The original 1911 will fire if dropped muzzle down with enough momentum change upon impact. Fortunately, the muzzle-down attitude of the barrel means that the accidental discharge would not normally endanger bystanders, but it is disconcerting at best. Modern gun design favors lighter FP’s with smaller diameter tips. Higher FP impact speed ignites primers more consistently than does higher impact energy or momentum.

    The M1 Garand rifle, and all of its descendents, have a free-floating firing pin and a weak FP retraction system–making them susceptible to destructive out-of-battery slam-fires during loading–even if the muzzle is pointed in a safe direction. This design deficiency is more serious than the 1911’s inertial FP concept. A damaged FP can stick in a forward position converting the M1 rifle into firing from an open bolt. Never let the action slam closed upon a chambered round and check the tail of the FP frequently for freedom of movement in the bolt. Military primers have thicker cups than modern commercial primers which helped prevent this slam-fire problem in service.

  6. A couple more things on the 1911. I remember reading about one college student (probably a genius, right?) showing another how the 1911 would not fire if you pushed on the muzzle while pulling the trigger. Evidently he did not push hard enough, and got a very sudden .45 caliber hole through his hand. Ow. Lucky he didn’t push with his forehead. Also, I knew an Air Force colonel who had an old Government Model go full auto on him at a target range. He got a nifty hand injury out of that one. An extra-good reason to use a consistently tight grip, eh? I used to carry a customized Series-70, satin-nickel Combat Commander tucked into the one-o’clock belt position. Boy, never again on that carry. Loved that pistol, though. Deadly accurate trigger.

  7. All mechanical things can malfunction. Firing pin blocks can fail and actually cause the pin to protrude and strike the primer when the slide is released. Many guns like the pocket 380s and even the AR do not have pin blocks. I think you would find that negligent discharges are rarely from this issue. So it’s not the biggest problem we face. I have a series 70 and had a series 80 and both functioned fine and thankfully neither experienced a problem of this type. They have enough other issues to keep me from carrying one for SD

  8. “The big problem with using a Series 80 style of weapon is that the Series 80 system will get clogged up with dirt and malfunction ”

    Why would it get clogged with dirt? When I clean mine (regularly since it’s my main carry gun), I clean the firing pin, the safety pin, springs, and chambers.

    I’ve had at least 5000 rounds through my Series 80, and have never had a misfire.

  9. Here’s a useful tip for owners of all pistols and especially Colt Series 80 models. After cleaning or disassembling the gun and before reassembly, pick up the frame, cock the hammer and hold it, then pull back on the trigger. You should see the firing pin block lever raise up from the top of the frame. Then after putting the pistol back together, drop a plastic punch/rod into the barrel and fire it in a safe direction. A new unsharpened pencil with an eraser will work too in lieu of the plastic punch. I do this with all my pistols after cleaning them to make sure they will go BANG when I press the trigger.

  10. About 35 years ago a friend of mine bought a new series 80 that slam fired when he dropped the slide on a freshly loaded magazine. His finger was off the trigger and the gun was clean.It only fired once, and it was clean when this happened. We couldn’t find anything wrong with it, neither could a gunsmith. The Colt sales rep suggested sending it back to the factory, but he didn’t want to do that. He kept the gun and shot it frequently, and as far as I know it never happened again. Any gun can malfunction. There is no perfect design. That’s why muzzle discipline is so important.

  11. Well I carry a Kimber 1911 Classic Custom, make ONE! No firing pin lock.

    I’ll keep carrying it. I once had a Colt Gold Cup, series 70, hook my sleeve and fly out and hit the ground.. it was fully loaded but safety on. Didn’t fire.

    I am not worried about a good, well made, 1911 firing if dropped (well if not dropped on the muzzle from 10 ft up!!! I’ll abstain from dropping it from my roof top.)

    But there lots of old striker fired guns I would not carry chamber loaded!!!

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